Judge Orders Police To Return Tacoma Man’s Marijuana

Talking to a friend yesterday, it was brought up that it’s shocking that black folks haven’t gotten to idea to sell weed in states where marijuana has been legalized. I mean, as much as petty weed possession charges disproportionately impact the lives of black (and brown) folks in the not-so-blind criminal justice system. And given the fact that many of “us” are currently unemployed. One would think that there would be yet another Great Migration, but this time to Colorado and Washington — two states that recently loosened its marijuana laws — in the spirit of entrepreneurialism.

But I suppose that as disadvantaged as black folks have been when it comes to the judicial system, it’s probably a good idea to hold off on making moves given that under federal law, marijuana is still a schedule one controlled substance. Yes, it’s right up there with crack even though I’ve yet to have anyone knock on my door at 3 AM trying to sell me a VCR to cop a fat sack of that sticky-icky-icky.

One good sign for black folks and advocates for decriminalization of marijuana, is that President Barack Obama — a onetime weed smoker himself — has been considering easing federal marijuana regulation. Which if you ask me would be a good move in the interest of, well, keeping black and brown folk out of jails. You know, like the white folks who also smoke weed who somehow manage to avoid incarceration at rates similar to that of people of color? Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice? I know for some of you this would be too much like opening up an extra fastlane on the freeway of degradation. But, could you imagine a society rid of the problem of judges having to tell police officers that they have to return weed seized in arrests to its rightful owners, as was the case in Tacoma, Washington recently? I can see federal marijuana decriminalization happening one day.

Can you?

This from The News Tribune:

Give the man his marijuana. That was the gist of a simple order Tacoma Municipal Court Judge Jack Emery gave to Tacoma police two months ago.

Police refused.

Thursday, Emery repeated himself with emphasis: Police have seven days to comply with his Feb. 28 order and return the pot to Tacoma resident Joseph L. Robertson, or face a possible order of contempt.

“Appeal or comply,” Emery told assistant city attorney John Walker. “Or next week, show up, and I would advise you to bring counsel.”

The ruling was a small procedural victory for Robertson, but it could set the stage for a precedent-setting debate, and a collision between state and federal laws governing marijuana.

Police seized the pot in May 2012 after pulling Robertson over for speeding. The officer who made the stop reported smelling marijuana inside Robertson’s car and later found a small amount.

Robertson was cited for driving without a valid license and misdemeanor marijuana possession and released. City prosecutors dismissed the possession charge in December after the state’s vote to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Robertson then asked for his pot back, and provided proof of medical marijuana authorization. The city refused, which prompted Emery’s Feb. 28 order.

Thursday, Robertson and his attorney, Jay Berneburg, were back in court, complaining that the city hadn’t complied. Robertson, a big man with a pony tail, wore an old Oakland Raiders jersey and sunglasses. Berneburg, also pony-tailed, wore a suit.

“Contemptuous” was the word Emery used to describe the city’s response to his earlier order. He held up a thick stack of legal briefs from the city, delivered one day before Thursday’s hearing. The city had blown the deadline to make such arguments, even if they had merit, the judge said.

judge-orders-police-to-return-tacoma-mans-marijuanaThe next step is uncertain – the next hearing is set for May 2. The matter could be resolved by then, or it could bounce up another legal level.

Emery’s order requires the city to fill out a release form and transmit it to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, which operates the property room where seized evidence (including Robertson’s pot) is stored.

The city could fill out the form and transmit it, leaving the onus of the decision on Pierce County. If the county refuses to return the pot, that could set up an appeal to Pierce County Superior Court.

Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Tacoma police could collect the pot; but the sheriff’s office won’t hand it to Robertson.

“It’s Tacoma’s case,” Troyer said. “If they want it, they can come and get it.”

Emery was careful to point out the jurisdictional tangle as he gave his ruling Thursday; he has legal authority over the city, but not the county.

“I am going to order that you fill out the appropriate release and transmit it to the sheriff’s department,” Emery said, addressing Walker. “Then I’m going to set a hearing next week. I think there’s contemptuous behavior here.”

Emery added that the case was “a quagmire,” due to the conflicting provisions of state and federal law.

After the hearing, Berneburg said that if the county refuses to return his client’s pot, he would file an appeal.

“This isn’t gonna end,” Berneburg said. “This is not gonna end.”

Whether I smoke weed or not isn’t important. But in the event that you’ve assumed that I do because, well, I’m a black man and all black people smoke weed. Well, you’re sorely mistaken because I do not. But that aside, I am an advocate for decriminalization and legalization. Of course we can have a debate (as many often do) as to whether marijuana is harmful to the human body. But harmful or not, one thing I know for sure that it seems like “certain people” are only concerned about one particular racial demographic’s consumption, possession, and trafficking of the drug.

Be that as it may, I guess it only makes sense why a big deal is made of Speaker John Boehner’s daughter being engaged to a convicted pothead who happens to be black. Shoot, if her fiancé was a white man with the same criminal record, I doubt if anyone would even care. Yep, and if he had his weed seized by the police, you can best believe that no judge would be ordering that it be returned to him. But hey, maybe I’m wrong about that. Yes, maybe race has nothing to do with anything.


John Boehner's Jamaican-born, soon-to-be son-in-law, Dominic Lakhan
John Boehner’s Jamaican-born, soon-to-be son-in-law, Dominic Lakhan